Work in my laboratory utilizes the zebrafish, to visualize biochemical processes in living embryos by exploiting their accessibility and optical clarity. Specifically, the laboratory has focused on studying lipid modifying and transport processes in the developing embryo. Lipids are known to play a role in a host of physiological processes, most notably inflammation, and in cancer. Despite these findings, little is known about their role in cell signaling events important during embryonic development. A novel aspect of this work is that it examines the regulation of lipid metabolism in vivo by feeding embryos fluorescent lipids and visualizing their uptake and processing using time-lapse microscopy. We couple these tools with mutagenesis screening to identify genes that regulate lipid metabolism, germ cell migration, intestinal and liver transport, and development of the biliary tract. Identification of these genes has important implications for cancer research and research related to diseases of the liver, intestine and cardiovascular system.
As an Innovation Fund investigator, Farber and his lab are teaming up with the lab of John F. Rawls, Ph.D., to investigate how dietary nutrients, such as fats, alter the body’s ability to sense glucose in the gut. Rawls, who has done extensive research on host-microbe interactions, and Farber, who studies lipid metabolism, both use zebrafish as a model for their respective work, and they recently demonstrated that a high-fat meal lowers the ability of certain cells in the intestines to sense glucose, a process that is dependent on a particular type of bacteria. Glucose sensing is important for proper metabolic function, particularly the release of insulin from pancreatic beta cells. By conducting novel imaging and genetic studies in zebrafish, Rawls and Farber hope to determine the mechanism by which a high-fat diet interferes with intestinal cells’ ability to sense glucose and identify the intestinal microbes that are involved in the process. This work could offer additional information on the role microbes play in nutrition and provide new strategies to combat metabolic disorders such as diabetes and obesity.